Friday November 2, 2012

LENOX -- The candidates stood by the podium, tall, well-suited, ready to debate the Democratic and Repub lican party platforms.

On Thursday, Lenox Memorial high school students Liam Gennari and Tom Villetto took the stage in the auditorium at Kimball Farms in Lenox, to debate the plans and ideas of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively.

The students are among the many who have participated in mock presidential debates, forums and elections in the recent weeks leading up to Nov. 6, the nation's actual polling day.

Audience members at Kimball Farms ranged from third-graders to octogenarians, who reacted the way any given audience would during a debate: Some cheered and clapped, a few jeered at some responses, other slumped in their seats while others leaned forward, clinging to every word. While listening to the other present, Gennari and Villetto looked like seasoned veterans, often glaring at their opponent and shaking their head in dispute while arguing economics, health care, education and foreign policy.

Lenox humanities department teacher, David Fisher, moderated the hourlong bout.

The two students also did a second debate with their classmates on Thursday after school.

Prior to the start of the morning debate, the students told The Eagle why they volunteered to participate in this event when suggested by Sharon Lazerson, life enrichment coordinator at Kimball Farms.

"It makes sense because there's so much at stake with this election that will affect people even at a younger age,"said Gennari, who wore a blue and white tie and an American flag pin in honor of the party he was debating for.

Both young men said they are interested in politics. They often cited Romney and Obama statements from previous debates and media interviews they researched.

"I'll be at the lunch table and talk politics or just moderate," Villetto said. "A lot of kids say they're not interested in politics, but once you start asking them questions, they realize that they are."

Other student political events in Berkshire County included "Democra-poll-uzza" a night for meeting local school committee candidates held at Mount Everett Regional High School in Sheffield. Lanesborough Elementary School, Hoosac Valley Middle and High School in Cheshire and McCann Technical School in North Adams all held mock national elections. Some fifth-grade students at Craneville Elementary School in Dalton wrote persuasive essays about whom they would vote for a why after reading about the two candidates' policies.

Many other schools in the county held similar activities and discussions around the upcoming election and the electoral process.

After seeing Thursday's mock debate at Kimball Farms, students from the Montessori School of the Berkshires in Lenox Dale said they learned a lot and liked the controlled format of a moderated debate. Most students in grades 3 through 8 there said that they have watched some pre-election candidate coverage or talked about it with there families.

"We should be able to vote," decided third-grader Theo Maurino.

He and his classmates said they'd like to have a say in both national and local elections. Villetto said he supports the idea of lowering the voting age to 16.

"People of all ages should stay engaged with politics because it doesn't end in November when you turn your TV off and someone takes office," Gennari said. "The real change will happen over the next four years. We need to keep listening, keep informed and keep engaged."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink